2021-22 girls basketball preview: Rebuilds and reloads are a top theme for NEGa area teams

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter
Posted 7:05AM on Tuesday 16th November 2021 ( 6 months ago )

Unfortunately, the 2020-21 basketball season will be more remembered as the Season of COVID.
But that didn’t stop several Northeast Georgia teams from having breakout seasons.
The Lumpkin County girls advanced to their first-ever Final Four in Class 3A, and if not for a heartbreaking final 5 seconds against Cross Creek, they had a chance to perhaps capture their first-ever state title.
The Commerce girls in Class A Public made their first semifinals since 1989. Buford had another strong run in Class 6A, perhaps the toughest of the eight Georgia High School Association classifications, before falling in the Elite 8. Flowery Branch made another run to the quarterfinals in Class 4A.
So, what will the 2021-22 season offer for area teams and fans?
That will be the big question for many. Some, like Lanier Christian. Lumpkin County, Buford, Commerce, and Rabun County, are reloading as they look to improve on last season. Others like North Hall, Banks County, Union County, and White County are looking to rebound after tough finishes to the year.  And others still like Cherokee Bluff, Chestatee, and Dawson County are looking for a breakout season after just missing out on the playoffs altogether.
East Jackson, Towns County and Union County are the only programs that are sporting new coaches this season.

We offer you below our 2021-22 season preview of every team in our coverage area.*

(* -- Information provided by coaches or team officials.) 

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Steven Shedd, 6th season
-- REGION: 8-2A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 16-12 overall, 3rd in Region 8-2A, Class 2A playoffs
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Jenna Reeves, Hailey Seahorn
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: So. PG Addison Hoard (8 ppg, 4 rpg, 2 spg), Jr. PF Kamryn Grier (14 ppg, 11 rpg, 2 bpg), So. PF Carley Segars (4 ppg, 4 rpg, 1 bpg), Sr. SG Kalyn Beasley (27 mpg, 3 apg, 2 spg), Fr.  Ryleigh Murphy, Fr. Reese Murphy
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Leopards return some size inside with Grier and Segars. They also will have some shooters. Depth, with the return of several girls from injury last season, could be a big strength. They should make some noise in a very good Region 8-2A.
-- QUESTIONS: As mentioned above, injuries depleted them by the end of the season. If they can get everyone back and close to 100 percent, that could be the key to the season.
-- KEY GAMES: They will play a very difficult non-region schedule, including defending Class A Private state champ Hebron Christian and Class A Public semifinalist Commerce. They also have teams from Class 3A up to Class 7A sprinkled in as well. Region 8-2A sports two top 5 teams in 2A in preseason rankings (Elbert County and Rabun County) so every game will be huge as they jockey for position.

-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Gene Durden, 17th year, 432-72 record at school (865-216 overall)
-- REGION: 8-6A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 26-1 overall, Region 8-6A champions, Class 6A quarterfinals
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. P Tatum Ozment (5-9), Sr. P Tamori Plantin (6-0), So. PG Ava Grace Watson (5-7, 8-6A All Region, Class 6A All-State, All-Gwinnett County, USA Trials Invitee), Jr.  W Kirby Walllis (5-8), Jr. PG Samiya Wayne (5-5), So. W Betty Nguyen (5-6), So. W Alyssa Green (5-7), So. W Jayla Gudz (5-5), Jr. W Taylor Romano (5-8)
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Wolves return several key players from last year’s team, including the dynamic Watson. They have depth with five players returning with experience and will be able to play inside and out.
-- QUESTIONS: They lack the height they’ve had in years past and will have to rely more on their typical defensive prowess to create transition baskets. How quickly can some newcomers get acclimated to their system and a tough schedule could be a factor.
-- KEY GAMES: Durden has once again put together a challenging schedule. The non-region is chock full of state powers like Holy Innocents, Wesleyan, Parkview and Brookwood. Region 8-6A, which had several rebuilding teams last season, should be improved and challenging as well. Key matchups with Habersham Central, Dacula, and Lanier will decide the region title.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Lindsay Justice, 4th season
-- REGION: 7-3A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 8-19 overall
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Alexis Mize, Sydney Jones, Bobbi Whitaker
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. PG Timber Gaither (13.0 ppg, 3 spg), Sr. F Finley Millwood, So. G Kaitlin Cook (7.0 ppg, 2 spg)
-- STRENGTHS: This will be the first season that Coach Justice will have had players that have been in the program all 4 years. They have plenty of senior leadership and several scorers that can put pressure on most defenses. The Lady Bears should be poised at making a run at the playoffs and a region title.
-- QUESTIONS: Justice and her staff will be implementing a new system and how quickly the team takes to the changes could be an issue.
-- KEY GAMES: Region 7-3A is deep with several teams that can make a run at the playoffs. They have an intriguing non-region schedule that includes Class A Private state champion Hebron Christian and perennial power Rabun County. The always tough Lanierland also should help them get ready for what is expected to be a wide-open 7-3A this season.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Sutton Shirley, 4th season 
-- REGION: 8-4A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 11-14 overall
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Emma Easterwood, Logan Wiggins
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. W Bowen Corley (9 ppg, 10 rpg), So. G Riley Black (6 ppg, 6rpg), Sr. G Riley Allison (transfer from Union County)
-- STRENGTHS: Shirley will have plenty of depth to work with as all 11 on the roster are expected to see playing time.
-- QUESTIONS: However, six on the roster are underclassmen that did not see significant minutes last season. Shirley will need to build up the experience, especially once they reach a very tough 8-4A schedule.
-- KEY GAMES: The Lady War Eagles will step up in class with non-region games against Class 6A Lanier, Class 7A Alpharetta, and Class 5A teams Harris County and Starr’s Mill. They open region play on Dec. 10th vs. Flowery Branch. Lanierland should also offer plenty of challenges. They will have a tough 8-4A finish with road games at North Oconee, Madison County, and Cedar Shoals to close out the regular season.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Brad Puckett, 8th season
-- REGION: 8-A Public
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 19-11 overall, Region 8-A Public runner ups, Class A Public Final Four
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Maggie Mullis, Bryanna Sanders, Emma Davis
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. PG Lauren Massey (injured most of the season but returned for playoffs, 5.2 ppg), Sr. G Anna Taylor (4.6 ppg), Sr. G/F Carson Hobbs (9.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg; a versatile player who can play inside and out and can hit 3-point shots), Sr. F Grace Hobbs (6-0, missed last season with a torn ACL), So. G Raven Parks, So. F Malay Mitchell (returning from injury), So. F Graci West
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Tigers return 3 of 5 starters returning from last year's semifinal team. They will have the ability to play tall or small and quick depending on the matchup.
-- QUESTIONS: Puckett and staff will need to develop a backup point guard to take pressure off Massey.
-- KEY GAMES: Puckett has put together a challenging non-region schedule to help them prepare for another deep playoff run. They will play higher-class teams in Banks County, Rabun County, and Union County (all out of 8-2A), Cherokee Bluff (3A), and Chestatee and Madison County (8-4A). They used a similar schedule last season where they were 2-8 at one point before winning 13 straight games to help propel them to their first Final Four since 1989.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Eric Herrick, 2nd season
-- REGION: 7-3A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 13-12 overall
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Maddie Anglin and Mariah Benson
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. G/F Kirklyn Porter (9 ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg), Sr. G/F Ella Siuta (6 ppg, 5 rpg), So. SG Abby Samples-Slaton (7 ppg), So. F Morgan Chester (4 ppg, 8 rpg).
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Tigers return a slew of versatile players that can play inside and out and have size at all positions. Porter, Slaton, and Siuta all are solid from the perimeter. Chester has shown tremendous growth since last season and Herrick expects big things from her.
-- QUESTIONS: Defense was an issue last year and Herrick said improving on that end and creating stops may be the key to the season in a very balanced region.
-- KEY GAMES: The Lady Tigers will have a very challenging non-region schedule with the likes of Johns Creek, Forsyth Central, Hart County, and Franklin County to get ready for what should be a very intense region slate. They also have a chance to make an early statement in 7-3A with home games against playoff teams White County and Lumpkin County (semifinals) to open region play.

-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Justin Wheeler, 9th season
-- REGION: 8-4A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 15-10 overall, Lanierland runner-up
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. G Alexis Burce, Sr. G Audrey Griffin, Jr. G Maleah Harrison
-- STRENGTHS: Once again, the Lady Vikings return a solid guard-heavy nucleus that should be able to use their quickness, athleticism, and shooting to put pressure on opposing defenses.
-- QUESTION MARKS: Height and depth could be an issue in a very tough and balanced region.
-- KEY GAMES: They have several challenging non-region games with Banks County, Monroe Area, and of course Lanierland, to get ready for another tough region schedule. Three teams out of 8-4A advanced to the quarterfinals last year and the Lady Vikings could be ready to breakthrough. Every game in region play will be key to set up tournament seeding.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Matt Allen, 1st season
-- REGION: 8-3A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 10-7, Region runner-up, 2nd round Class 3A playoffs
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: G Kenzie Whitehead, F Maurissa Thomas
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. G Haven Rollins, (10 ppg, 8 rpg, 2 spg), Jr. G Antonia Pittman, (10 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg, 3 spg), Jr. G Destiny Rakestraw (6 ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg, 2 spg).
-- STRENGTHS: East Jackson will feature a fast and athletic team led by three returning backcourt players. They should be able to score from a variety of levels.
-- QUESTIONS: A late coaching may lend to some early growing pains as they adjust to a new system.
-- KEY GAMES: The Lady Eagles have a very challenging non-region schedule with four playoff teams from last season, not including three Class 7A teams in Kennesaw Mountain, Forsyth Central, and Mountain View. But they have the experience of coming back to challenge for the region title again in what is traditionally a tough region.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Courtney Newton, 7th season
-- REGION: 8-4A
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 14-15, Class 4A Elite 8
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Ashlee Locke, (Mercer University), Morgan Aguilar
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. G Shaina Kriews (13.2 ppg, 5.1rpg, 2.8 apg), Jr. G Bella Brick (11.7 ppg, 34% from three, 4.1 rpg), Sr. G Alana Veiga (4ppg 5 rpg), So. Deniya Randolph
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Falcons will be very guard-heavy this season, a major departure from their typical inside-outside offense. Kriews, Brick, and Veiga all are strong outside shooters and also will provide quickness on the defensive end.
-- QUESTIONS: Adjusting to not having a big inside presence and getting the underclassmen up to varsity speed will be a huge key.
-- KEY GAMES: The Lady Falcons will get some early non-region tests from playoff teams East Jackson and Lumpkin County as well as Class 6A Allatoona. They open Region 8-4A play against what should be a very improved Chestatee squad that could tell a lot about both teams.

-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Alan Griffin, 4th season 
-- REGION: 6-7A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 14-12 overall, Lanierland champions
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Lauren Teasley
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. Zaria Williams (8.9 ppg, 3.9 spg), Jr. Keke Jones (8.4 ppg, 2.6 spg), Sr. Amaya Topps, Sr. Terry Putnam (both appeared in 20 games last season, 4-year players), Jr. Kiedra Young, Jr. Coloni Young, Fr. Julia Payne, Jr. Jada Johnson, Jr. Kenya Jackson, Fr. Dreya Maddox
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Red Elephants will be speedy and should have a solid transition game to go with a good defensive unit. They have 4 players back that saw significant action. 
-- QUESTION MARKS: Replacing Teasley’s 14 ppg will be an issue as they were inconsistent on the offensive end last season. Developing quality depth with a ton of newcomers in a brutal 6-7A may hold the key to any potential playoff run.
-- KEY GAMES: They have a difficult non-region schedule and Lanierland and four other matchups against playoff teams and it could be one of their most difficult schedules ever. They may know where they stand just after the New Year opening region play before Lanierland with 4 of their first 5 games against the four playoff teams from last season.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Bill Bradley, 5th season
-- REGION: 8-6A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 19-6, Region runner-up, Sweet 16 in Class 6A
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES:  Addie Penick (Emmanuel College), Liz Pollitt, Nykerria Brown (Jr. last year not playing)
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. P Taylor Wade (13.3 ppg, 35% 3-pt, 5.8 rpg), So. G Kyia Barrett (6.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.6 apg), Sr. W Hailey Wade (3.7 ppg), Sr. G Kelsey Banks (3.5 ppg), Sr. G Lindsey Parker (2.7 ppg), Jr. PG Jazky Bantaum, Jr. P Sataria Cantrell, Jr. P Gabby Santiago
-- STRENGTHS:  The Lady Raiders bring back a wealth of experience and depth with balance inside and out.  They return two-thirds of their offense in a region that is high on defense.
-- QUESTIONS: The Lady Raiders will have to find a suitable replacement at PG with the loss of Penick. 
-- KEY GAMES: A tough region schedule awaits once again but the Lady Raiders should be in line to challenge for a region title and a home playoff game for a second straight season. Two big rivalry games with Stephens County will highlight a challenging non-region schedule before opening region play with Central Gwinnett.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Christi Thomas, 2nd season
-- REGION: 8-5A
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Mikenna Duffy (G), Naomi Sims (G/F)
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. PG Hanna Mahoney, So. G Anna Maxey, Sr. F Miracle Laniado, Sr. F Katie Hitt, Sr. G Kennedy Harris, So. F Kylen Hewell
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Panthers return most of what was a young roster from last year. Also, a second season under Coach Thomas and implementing her style should pay some dividends later in the season.
-- QUESTIONS: Finding some leadership and getting consistent offensive play will be key factors for the season.
-- KEY GAMES: The Lady Panthers will play some tough early non-region games with Winder-Barrow, East Hall, and Mountain View before opening up a tough region schedule with preseason favorite Greenbrier.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Greg Brown, 4th season
-- REGION: 8-4A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 23-5, Region 8-4A champions, Class 4A quarterfinals
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Livi Blackstock 16ppg, Courtney Kidd 9 ppg, Allianne Clark 8 ppg
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. G Deshona Gaither (14 ppg, 5 rpg, 4 spg), Sr. PG Ellie Kinlaw (12 ppg, 3 apg, 3 spg), Sr. G/F Natalia Bolden (injury), Sr. F Jyesha Butts, Sr. G Tylia Brown, Sr. G Hailey Triaga, Sr. P Kendall Bailey (Injury)
-- STRENGTHS: They return 7 seniors who all contributed last year and are capable of playing at a high tempo and putting a lot of pressure on the opponent. Deep at guard will help their up-tempo style as well.
-- QUESTIONS: The Lady Dragons lost 33 ppg to graduation and will need to blend in some younger players with the upperclassmen to fill those roles.
-- KEY GAMES: Brown assembled one of the tougher non-region schedules in the area with 7 games against playoff teams, including a Thanksgiving tournament that will include Buford, Lumpkin County, and St. Pius, all of who went deep in the playoffs last season. They won a difficult 8-4A last year, which may be improved this season, so every game will matter as they try to grab one of the two automatic bids.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jared Hodge, 4th season
-- REGION: 8-5A
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: The LadyKnights return the entire roster from last year. Sr. F Sarah Johnson (9.9 ppg, 38 steals, 1st-team All-Region in 2020-21), Sr. G Carleigh Odell (4.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg), Sr. F Ashley Mintz (6.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg), Sr. G Emely Trejo(4.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg), Jr. G Alana Young, So. G Destiny Ramirez
-- STRENGTHS: The bad news is they went winless in region play last year. The good news is the entire roster also got invaluable experience. They should be much more competitive in a tough region with a roster that is balanced on the offensive end. Johnson should have an even bigger breakout season.
-- QUESTIONS: But finding more consistent scoring across the lineup to help Johnson may be the key to the season. 
-- KEY GAMES: They opened against arch-rival West Hall last week and face another challenging non-region schedule, including Lanierland, before opening region play on the road against Clarke Central.

-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: John Carrick, 12th season
-- REGION: 6-A Private
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 4-20 overall, Class A Private playoffs
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. G Joelle Snyder (20 ppg, passed the 1,000-pt mark last season, 1st team All-Region, No. 9 shooting guard in Georgia in preseason rankings), So. Sara Nivens (5 ppg, 8 rpg), So. Ashlyn Henderson  (4 ppg, 3 rpg), So. Annie Nivens, So. Emmie Finley, So. Madi Loggins
-- STRENGTHS: They return Snyder, who has the ability to take over a game, and with the entire roster back they should be able to improve on their lowest win total in more than 20 years.
-- QUESTION MARKS: Finding consistent offense outside of Snyder will be the key to the season. 
-- KEY GAMES: Despite the low win total, they still managed to get into the playoffs in a weak region. They should be able to once again challenge for a playoff spot. They play Cherokee Bluff and Habersham Central, as well as Lanierland, in non-region to help them get ready for region play.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Rhonda Whelchel, 1st season
-- REGION: GAPPS Region 2
-- 2021-22 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 20-1, Class 1-3A quarterfinals
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Graduated all but two returning players
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. PG/W Ashley Avery (7.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Sr. F Lily Martin (2.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg), Fr. W/F Ellie Roberts, Fr. PG Kaitlyn DeLozier, Fr. C Julia Pils, So. W/F/G Hannah Adams, Jr. W/F Tori Wandrum, So. PG/W Moriah Clark, Jr. W/F Camille Hoffman
-- STRENGTHS: Depth, though it will be young and inexperienced at the varsity level. 
-- QUESTION MARKS: The youth will be an issue as they have very little experience at the varsity level. 
-- KEY GAMES: Region 2 games with Fideles Christian, Killian Hill Christian, Peachtree Academy, Trinity Prep School, and Westminster Christian Academy will be key.

-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: David Dowse, 5th season (66-40)
-- REGION: 7-3A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 25-5 (School-record in wins), 7-3A regular season and tournament champions, Class 3A Final Four
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Isabel Davenport (UNG), Makenzie Caldwell (Emmanuel College)
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. PG/SG Lexi Pierce (7-3A 1st Team All-Region 2021, North GA All-Star Selection, preseason Class 3A 3rd-team All-State 2022), Jr. F Mary Mullinax (7-3A Honorable Mention All-Region 2021, North GA All-Star Selection), Jr. F Kate Jackson (missed last season with an injury, 7-3A 1st Team All-Region in freshman year, preseason Class 3A 2nd-team All-State 2022), So. PG/SG Averie Jones (7-3A 1st-team All-Region 2021, Class 3A Freshman of the Year, 2021, Class 3A Honorable Mention All-State 2021, North GA All-Star Selection 2021, preseason Class 3A 1st-team All-State 2022)
-- STRENGTHS: Virtually all of the players experienced their historic run to the semifinals last year. They have tremendous balance inside and out and are one of the better defensive teams in the region as well. Coach Dowse said they have been motivated the entire offseason to improve by one more win than last season
-- QUESTION MARKS: However, there are no seniors on the roster so finding some early leadership could be key. They have just 9 on the roster so depth could once again be an issue.
-- KEY GAMES: They have a challenging non-region with a pair of games, including their season-opener, against Class 4A Elite 8 Flowery Branch as well as 7A Peachtree Ridge, Morgan County, and playing host to the 2nd annual Kelly King Holiday Classic Christmas Tournament. Every game in 7-3A will be huge as several teams have improved from last year in what was already a balanced and tough region.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Brad Kudlas, 3rd season
-- REGION: 6-7A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 23-5, Region champs for the 4th straight year, Class 7A quarterfinals
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. PG Anna Gliatta (11.5 ppg, 2 spg), Sr. Haelim Adle 9.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg), Sr. SG Ali Jones (9.2 ppg, 38.9% 3-pt), Sr. C Maddie Erickson (6.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.4bpg), Sr. G Leah Hall (2.0 ppg, 13 charges), Jr. F Erin Whalen, Jr. G Meredith Franklin, Jr. SG Kamryn Gardner, Jr. F Karissa Wilkins, Fr. G/F London Weaver, So. C Lindsey Pirkle
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Raiders go 11 deep with just about anyone capable of carrying them in any game. Key newcomers London Weaver and Lindsey Pirkle will also help add to the balanced attack of the Raiders.
-- QUESTIONS: As three-time defending region champs, the target will be on their backs once again. How the team handles the expectations in a deep and tough region will decide their season.
-- KEY GAMES: Kudlas has put together a tough non-region schedule with the likes of River Ridge, Wesleyan, Trinity Christian and Norcross to help them get ready for another war in one of the best regions in the state at any level. It could come down to a pair of games each with South Forsyth and West Forsyth for the title.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL:   Kristi House, 12th season (192-129)
-- REGION:  7-3A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 9-19, Class 3A playoffs
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES:  Sophie Cleveland (ACL injury in offseason, hopes to return)
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. G Rylee McCall (12 ppg), Jr. G Kristina Peach (12 ppg), Jr. G Rylee Thompson, Jr. P Annabeth Gilleland, Jr. P Lexi Jarrard, Jr. G Amelia Shoemaker, Jr. P Sarah Davidson
-- STRENGTHS:  The Lady Trojans were young last year and still made the playoffs. They return all but one player and should have a deeper bench than a year ago. They will play their usual up-tempo style and should be more experienced for another playoff run..  
-- QUESTIONS: Cleveland’s injury will create a hole in the lineup and they will need to be more consistent on both ends of the court.
-- KEY GAMES: Region 7-3A is deep once again with Dawson County ready to rebound and the addition of East Forsyth could add to the depth. They open with two of their first three region games at home, including Lumpkin County, and that could be an early indicator if they will be ready to challenge for the title.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: DeeDee Dillard, 16th season
-- REGION: 8-2A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 19-7, Region runner-up, Class 2A Sweet 16
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Natalie Nix (graduated), Beth Payne (graduated), So. Ellie Southards (season-ending ACL injury)
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. F/W Gracie Deetz (11.8 ppg,5.4 rbp, 2.1 bpg), Sr. G Carley Haban (8.3 ppg, 72.4% FT), So. G Lucy Hood (9.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.2 apg), Sr. PG Sophie Woodard (8.5 ppg, 1.9 spg), Sr. G Sarah Kate Roberson (3 rbg, 75% FT), Sr. G Loren Stiles (5 ppg, 95% FT)
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Wildcats have an experienced senior class that should provide much-needed leadership. They are smaller than in years past but should be quicker and try to use that to their advantage on the defensive end.  
-- QUESTIONS: With the lack of size and overall depth, Dillard may have to play several girls out of position. How the girls adjust to the new toles may decide whether they can make another deep playoff run.
-- KEY GAMES: Look for a traditionally tough 8-2A to be even tougher this season. Elbert County surprised everyone by winning the region in 2020-21 and the Lady Blue Devils return nearly everyone. The two teams split games last year and Banks County and Union County are also expected to be improved. That will make every game a battle for a possible home playoff game. They have a tough non-region slate that began last week against Class 7A top-10 South Forsyth. They also have games against playoff teams Stephens County, Franklin County, and Commerce, and also Cherokee Bluff in Class 3A.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Shea Taylor, first season
-- REGION: 8-A Public
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 12-13, Class A Public Sweet 16
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES:  Kennedi Henson and Vanessa Floyd among five seniors
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. G Sarah Shook (only returning starter), So. P Laura Mauldin, Jr. G Tabitha Barnes, Sr. G Emily Vargas, Sr. P Payten Calvert
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Indians lost a big senior class but do return several key players that saw significant time last year. Shook was the team’s 2nd-leading scorer as a freshman and should be ready to return to form after an injury last season.
-- QUESTIONS: They do return several key players but they will have to develop into front-line starters and finding the right leadership and floor combinations will be crucial.
-- KEY GAMES: Lake Oconee is probably the team expected to repeat as region champion and Commerce returns the bulk of its Final Four team as well. Every game will be important but winning the games they should win in the region may decide if they can get back to the playoffs for a 2nd straight year in a very deep and good region.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Mandy Hunter, 1st season
-- REGION: 8-2A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 2-13, Class 2A playoffs
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. P Ava Hunter (UNG-commit), Sr. P Rebeka Chambers, Jr. G Corrine Hill
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Panthers will have one of the best interior teams in the region with Hunter and Chambers. But they will need to find some consistent guard play. 
-- QUESTIONS: They will need to find some backcourt depth in a very tough and deep region. 
-- KEY GAMES: The 2020-21 season had big promise coming off an Elite 8 appearance the year before. But they were ravaged by COVID issues last season that decimated any chance of a deep playoff run. They face another challenging non-region schedule this season. They opened last week against Class 3A playoff team Stephens County and take on Habersham Central this week as well as #A teams Cherokee Bluff and semifinalist Lumpkin County down the road. Then a brutal 8-2A schedule where every game will matter for seeding.

-- COACH, YEARS AT SCHOOL: Shawana Harrison, 4th season
-- REGION: 7-3A
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Adrianna Lipscomb
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Sr. P Macie Burell, Jr. P Lisa Osokalo, Jr. G Aniyah Thompson, So. PG/G Mackenzie White
-- STRENGTHS: The Lady Spartans are still in a transition period as Harrison continues to try and rebuild the program. Some early success could go a long way to doing that.
-- QUESTION MARKS: Depth will continue to be an issue in a tough, deep region. The biggest concern is finding enough offense to stay with the up-tempo teams in the region.
-- KEY GAMES: When you’re trying to rebuild a program, any win can get things rolling. They will again have a tough non-region slate as well as 7-3A. An important key game could be the Lanierland play-in game against arch-rival Johnson on Dec. 4.

-- COACH/YEARS AT SCHOOL: Jarvis Davenport, 6th season
-- REGION: 7-3A
-- 2020-21 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 12-14, Class 3A playoffs
-- KEY PLAYER LOSSES: Makenna Moose, Maddie Futch, Dasha Cannon, Madison Adams
-- KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: Jr. PG/W Chandler Weaver (1.5 ppg, 2.5 spg, 2 apg, 2.4 rpg), Jr. W/P Naomi Roberts (9.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.2 spg, 1.2 apg), Sr. PG/W Chesnee Freeman (3.5 ppg, 1.2 spg, 1 rpg)
-- STRENGTHS: Davenport has rebuilt the Lady Warriors into a perennial playoff team with four straight appearances. They will have several underclassmen to integrate with the upperclassmen but by season’s end, they should be right in the mix for a playoff spot and maybe even a region title. Davenport said they had a very solid summer and fall.
-- QUESTIONS: The Lady Warriors should be able to score but making stops on defense will probably be the difference in how far they can go this season.
-- KEY GAMES: COVID issues played a big part in their record last year as they did not have a full roster but for a handful of games. They have tough non-region games with playoff teams Habersham Central, Jefferson, Union County and Rabun County. They open region play on the road against Dawson County in what could be a precursor for both teams.

Jr. Mary Mullinax (11) and So. Averie Jones (4) will try and get the Lumpkin County girls back into the Class 3A semifinals this season.

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